After many daily visits to the Kruger National Park’s Sunset Dam and countless pictures, one Wild traveller finally managed to successfully capture their dream sighting: a pied kingfisher hunting for fish.

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Pictures by Gerhard Geldenhuys

As a lover of the pied kingfisher, Gerhard Geldenhuys already had many excellent shots of this bird, but he wanted more – action photos of a pied kingfisher going after a fishy snack. Since many kingfishers call Sunset Dam in the Kruger National Park their playground, he knew he would get lucky there. Someday.

“We spent 20 days in the Kruger at Lower Sabie Rest Camp and visited Sunset Dam virtually on a daily basis to try and spot hungry pied kingfishers. I wanted to witness exactly how this little bird goes about fishing for its meal. After hundreds of pictures, I finally hit the jackpot,” says bird photography enthusiast Gerhard.

Because the pied kingfisher is constantly hovering over the water, concentration and good camera support are key. “I used a Nikon D500 capable of 10 frames per second and a speed setting of 1/3200.”

The big splash

“The kingfisher hovers over the water at different heights and watches for potential prey. Its dive is lighting fast! What I didn’t realise, and I am sure many other nature lovers also don’t know, is that the pied kingfisher disappears completely under the water in search of its prey. Once the bird finally surfaces, you get a fair idea of how much energy is expended to rise out of the water and fly away. What an amazing bird.”

Photographing the pied kingfisher’s hunt is a great challenge – you’re never sure where or when the bird is going to dive.
– Gerhard Geldenhuys

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It’s mid-morning at Kruger’s Sunset Dam when a pied kingfisher makes its appearance.

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Where did it go? The kingfisher almost mimics an Olympic diver in its efforts to secure a meal.

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Was the strike successful?

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Is that a fish in its beak?

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Indeed! With the fish firmly gripped in its bill, the bird gains height and heads back to shore.

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Almost there…

“Pied kingfishers are energetic birds with incredible eyesight. They show unbelievable tenacity in feeding themselves. Their skill is something else to behold.”

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A well-deserved meal!

Did you know?

  • The pied kingfisher has an extremely large range and its extent of occurrence is 69,300,000km².

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  • Although small fish may be swallowed in flight, larger prey is taken back to land and bashed repeatedly.
  • To make hunting possible, the pied kingfisher requires waterside perches including trees, reeds, fences, posts, or huts.
Additional source: BirdLife International